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Vietnam vets’ stories: Preserving history, honoring memories

By Kay S. Pedrotti The war in Vietnam in 1964-75 cast a heavy stone into the pond of collective memory in this country. The ripples are still being felt today. When The Herald Gazette published a story about ‘The Faces Never Forgotten,’ photos were being sought for the men from this area who died in Vietnam whose pictures had not been located by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation. Now we have heard from family members of three of them and still are tracking down the surviving relatives of the others. During the process an interesting story developed, yet another ripple touching many lives. It deals with the circumstances of the death of Sammy Buffington in 1967 and the involvement of his cousin, Arthur Buffington of Milner, in honoring his memory. Arthur himself, like several other members of the Buffington family, entered the Air Force near the end of World War II and served with the occupation forces in Okinawa. A humble and kind man, Arthur has touched the lives of many people in his 86 years. One of them was the late Andy Farris, platoon commander of Sammy’s unit, the Alpha Company, 2nd/12th of the 25th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. Farris died unexpectedly in January. Arthur and Andy met when Farris started writing his memories as an officer with Alpha Company; in the writings he describes his intent as both an attempt to help people remember the sacrifices made by troops in Vietnam and an effort to cope with his own post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Farris connected with Arthur and visited Sammy’s grave in Barnesville Memorial Gardens on Veterans Day in 2005. Farris was not with the company the day Sammy died; he had injured his back in a parachute jump from a helicopter. In his writings were these comments about Sammy Buffington: ‘Sammy was one of my men. Sammy was the kind of soldier men in the platoon called ‘˜a good leg.’ That is, he was a hard-core soldier, a man you knew you could depend on ‘¦ most of the men thought he was a little gruff, a little hardnosed. What they didn’t know was this was Sammy’s second tour in Vietnam and he knew what needed to be done, how and why. ’I remember him as a good man. Now after (so many) years since his death, he’s bringing new life, and healing, to those of us who served with him.’ Arthur’s information also includes an account of Sammy’s death by John Stone, another of Sammy’s platoon buddies, in his book The Thunder Road Mission: ‘The day was Tuesday and the date was Dec. 26, 1967. It was the last day of a scheduled road clearance and the armored division was on its way toward us. The minesweepers went first (but) everyone knew any step could be the last. We weren’t too far out of base camp and there was an explosion up in front on the left side of the road. When I got closer ‘¦ I was told a commanddetonated 105 round just killed Sammy Buffington.’ In later paragraphs it is explained unexploded U.S. ordnance was picked up and refigured by the North Vietnamese into booby traps or handdetonated explosives. John ‘Doc’ Collins, the platoon medic who went to aid Sammy, said his death was almost instant from the huge concussion area of the explosion. Sammy’s sister Sandra Eaton of Canton was younger than he; she remembers him as ‘a sweet boy who loved baseball and basketball ‘¦ I only had him for 19 years. That’s how old I was when he died.’ They were the children of Henry and Gracie Lee Buffington; Arthur and Henry were first cousins. ’I told his mother when Sammy was killed,’ Arthur said, ‘that when I taught Sammy in Sunday School, he always had his Bible with him. That made me very proud of him, the kind of person he was.’ Arthur has a rubbing of Sammy’s name on the Wall Memorial and recently made a donation to Gordon State College In his memory. Another comment by Doc Collins the medic, commenting on the seemingly random nature of trying to define what will be a fatal combat wound, seems fitting: ‘I learned that it’s all in God’s hands, some men die who should have lived and some men lived who should have died.’

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